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By Jonathan Prince Cilley
Porter, Andrews, and Newbegin, the latter, the only man not from Maine, coming from Ohio, and only to be accounted for as a member of the expedition by the fact that his initials P.C. stand for Parker Cleaveland, finish the list, with but one exception and that is Lincoln. The merry—maker and star on deck and below–except when the weather is too rough–he keeps the crowd good—natured when fogs, rain, head winds and general discomfort tend to discontent: and on shore he sees that the doctor is not too hard worked in making the botanical collections.
For two days we lazily drifted, the elements seeming to be making up for their late riot; but the weather was clear and bright, the scenery way off to our starboard was grand, and no one was troubled by the delay, except as the thoughts of the Grand River men turned to the great distance and the short time of their trip. At last, however, the breeze came, with which I opened this letter, and which we then hoped would continue till we reached Battle Harbor.
We just flew up the straits, saw many fishermen at anchor with their dories off at the trawls, schooners and dories both jumping in great shape; also a school of whales and an “ovea” or whale—killer, with a fin over three feet long sticking straight up. He also broke right alongside and blew. Considerable excitement attended our first sight of an iceberg; it was a rotten white one, but soon we saw a lot, some very dark and deep—colored.
[Red Bay] Our first sight of the long—desired coast was between Belle Armours Point and the cliffs near Red Bay, the thick haze making the outlines very indistinct. Just two weeks out from Rockland we made our first harbor on the Labrador coast. Red Bay is a beautiful little place, and with the added features of two magnificent icebergs close by which we passed in entering, the towering red cliffs on the left from which it takes its name, and the snug little island in the middle, and the odd houses we saw dotting the shores of the summer settlement of the natives, it seemed a sample fully equal to our expectations of what we should find in Labrador.
There is an inner harbor into which we could have gone, with seven fathoms of water and in which vessels sometimes winter as it is so secure, but we did not enter it because the captain was doubtful which of the two entrances to take and the chart seemed indefinite on the point. There are about one hundred and seventy—five people in the settlement, some of them staying there the year round, fishing in the summer and hunting the rest of the time. They have another settlement of winter houses at the head of the inner harbor, but, for convenience in getting at their cod traps, live on the island in the middle, and on the sides of the outer harbor in the summer. Their houses are made of logs about the size of small railroad ties, which are stood on end and clapboarded. The winter houses are built in a similar way with earth packed around and over them.
The party for Grand River–Cary, Cole, W.R. Smith and Young–have decided to dispense with a guide; very wisely, I think, from what I have seen of native Labradoreans. While the journey they undertake is one in which the skill of Indians or half—breeds, familiar with Labrador wildernesses would be of great value and would add to the comfort of our party, it is very doubtful if any living person has ever been to the falls or knows any more about the last, and probably the hardest part of the trip, than Cary. And, further, the travel is so difficult that about all a man can carry is supplies for himself; and the Indians cannot stand the pace that our men intend to strike; nor, if it should come to the last extremity, and a forlorn hope was needed to make a last desperate push for discovery or relief, could the Indian guides, so far as we have any knowledge of them, be relied on. That the boldest measures are often the surest, will probably again be demonstrated by our Grand River party.
We tried the exploring boats very thoroughly at Chateau Bay, three of us getting caught about six miles from the vessel in quite a blow, and the well—laden boat proved herself very seaworthy. When loaded, she still draws but little water, and is good in every way for the trip.
This letter was begun in the fine breeze off Newfoundland, but could not be mailed till the port of entry and post—office of Labrador, Battle Harbor, was reached. A week was consumed in getting from our first anchorage in Labrador to this harbor, as the captain was unaccustomed to icebergs, and properly decided to take no risks with them in the strong shifting currents and thick weather of the eastern end of the straits. The wind was ahead for several days, and the heavy squalls coming off the land in quick succession made us fear the wind would drop and leave us banging around in the fog that usually accompanies a calm spell, so we kept close to harbors and dodged in on the first provocation.
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